National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

national-native-hiv-aids-awareness-day

Courtesy:  Indian Country Today

It was just few days ago when I learned that March was designated as Women’s History Month.  Well, today, an identical thing happened to me which prompted me to put this post together in a hurry.  I found out just a few minutes ago that today is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  I also discovered that my ignorance of the day is not surprising given that it is a little known observance day.  NNHAAD is a day geared toward drawing attention to and building support for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations.  Here are some facts, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), women account for 29% of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 
  • For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) populations given a diagnosis, 78% were men, 21% were women, and 1% were children (under 13 years of age) in 2005.
  • From 2007 to 2010, new HIV infections among AI/NA populations increased by 8.7% (CDC).

While these percentages may seem low, one must remember to take into account the size of these populations compared to more populous races and ethnicities in the U.S. For example, according to the CDC, in 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, following blacks and Hispanics. To put this into numbers, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2008 per 100,000 persons were:

  • 73.7 Black/African American
  • 25.0 Hispanic/Latinos
  • 22.85 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 
  • 11.9 American Indian and Alaska Native 
  • 8.2 Whites
  • 7.2 Asians

Given that many of these populations live in rural areas, access to health care services can be difficult. Not to mention other roadblocks to obtaining needed services such as language and cultural barriers. Native communities have some of the shortest survival times after diagnosis of HIV/AIDS of all race and ethnicity groups in the U.S.

The report also showed that Native communities are not accessing the much needed care and attention after being diagnosed with HIV.  I also learned that about 26% are living with HIV and don’t even know it.  So, this means that since they don’t know that they have it, they wouldn’t seek medical help.  On the other hand, those who know that they have it, take steps to protect their health and take action to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Thankfully, there are public services like the IHS (Indian Health Service), an agency whose mission is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.  Our goal is to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people.  The IHS operates within Department of Health and Human Services.

The IHS National HIV/AIDS Program is committed to partnering with communities to create lasting change in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We provide programs to assist individuals, families, communities, and health care providers to:

  • Understand how HIV is spread, and share knowledge about HIV with others
  • Get tested for HIV
  • Put policies and procedures in place to offer a HIV testing as a routine part of all health care
  • Improve access to care, treatment, and prevention services needed by people living with HIV and AIDS

IHS providers throughout the country are offering screening more often, collaborating with communities to increase education, and offering care or referrals where direct care is not available. We can all help to reduce the stigma within our culture and among health care providers regarding HIV/AIDS.

I was shocked to learn that March 20, 2016 was the tenth anniversary of this annual awareness day.  I wonder how many people out there who even know that it exists.  Awareness, education and access are key.  And I applaud the many dedicated organizations that are currently working hard within the Indigenous communities to break down barriers and to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.   

The theme for 2016 was:  “Hear Indigenous Voices: Uniting the Bold Voices of American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders.” Last year’s was:  theme is “Unity in CommUnity, Stand Strong to Prevent HIV.” On this day, we recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.  The theme this year is “Unity in CommUNITY: Stand Strong for HIV Prevention.

It is my hope and prayer that long after this year’s National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day passes, that more people will find ways to stand strong for the Native communities.  We have heard the Indigenous voices, stood with them as we recognized that they are impacted by HIV/AIDS and now we must stand strong for prevention.  We have heard the voices, now it is time to be united in the fight to change the tide in this epidemic which discriminates against no one.  The HIV/AIDs is not one group’s or community’s fight but everyone’s fight.

Sources:  Humanitas Global Development; Indian Country Today; Indian Health Service

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Hymen Reconstruction

This week on the Ricki Lake Show, I learned about women having their hymen reconstructed.  I never knew such a thing existed.  Check out this clip from the show.

Melody Meozzi, an Iranian-American Muslim writer and attorney, is a staunch opponent of hymen reconstruction.  She believes that it further contributes to violence against women.  She goes head to head with with Dr. Robert Moore, an internationally recognized Laparoscopic and Vaginal Reconstructive Surgeon who has operated on patients from all over the US and the world.

Hymen Repair Surgery, termed as Hymenoplasty is a simple surgery to restore virginity of women owing to the religious, cultural and ethnic reasons. The surgery repairs the hymen after it has been ruptured during sexual assault, agreed intercourse, sports, falls or insertion of tampons.

The Hymen Restoration Surgery takes up to 30 minutes to an hour. The surgery is performed under local anaesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia. It involves stitching of the edges of the remaining hymen together. Soon after this the hymen heals and the ruptured hymen grows back to a hymen similar to one in virgin girls. With hymen restoration, vaginal walls also tighten up.

Such procedures are not generally regarded as part of mainstream gynecology, but are available from some plastic surgery centers, particularly in the USA, Japan and Western Europe, generally as day surgery. The normal aim is to cause bleeding during post-nuptialintercourse, which in some cultures is considered proof of virginity.

I came across an article on the BBC News website about women in Asia and the Arab world who risk being ostracized or death because they had sex outside of marriage.  Many of them are undergoing surgery to reconnect their hymen so that there is blood on the sheets on their wedding night.  Others have committed suicide because of the unbearable pressure and the fear of being found out.  Read their stories.

Hymen reconstruction surgery is performed in China as sexually active Chinese women are pressured by their new husbands.  This procedure is also done in Canada.  There were lots of websites promoting hymen repair, reconstruction.  There was even a website called Hymen shop where they sell artificial hymen.

There is so much information out there about hymen reconstruction.  If you or someone you know is considering this procedure, educate yourself first.  Seek counselling.  Don’t let anyone pressure you into having the surgery.  This decision is yours alone.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymenorrhaphy; http://www.weirdasianews.com/2010/09/14/hymen-reconstruction-surgery-price-virginity/; http://www.indicure.com/articles/hymenoplasty-procedure-outcomes-cost-hymen-restoration-surgery-in-top-hospitals-clinics-in-india.html; http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/hymen-reconstruction-doesnt-work;